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April 2016, Volume 22, Number 2

Meat and Migrants

Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan, Colorado fired 150 Somali workers for abandoning their jobs in December 2015 to protest a rumor that there would be less flexible time off to pray. Cargill lost unauthorized Hispanic workers during 2006 immigration raids, and replaced them with refugees, so that Fort Morgan's 12,000 residents included 1,000 Somalis.

Cargill's Fort Morgan plant processes 4,500 cattle a day on two shifts. Starting wages have been raised to $14.30 an hour, and Cargill says it "reasonably accommodates" workers' religious needs. JBS in Greeley faces allegations that it discriminated against Muslim workers by failing to provide reasonable religious accommodations.

The United Food and Commercial Workers was decertified by a 686-129 vote at a Tyson Fresh Meats in Spokane, Washington that employed 1,200 workers. The NLRB rejected a 2010 decertification effort. The 2,700 mostly immigrant Mexican and Burmese workers at a JBS pork plant in Marshalltown, Iowa have complained about local UFCW leadership there not taking action on their concerns about health and safety, forcing UFCW leaders to intervene.

Iowa, the major corn-producing state, had a very low unemployment rate, 3.4 percent at the end of 2015. Meatpackers and other agriculture-related firms rely on immigrant workers to fill jobs, putting upward pressure on wages. However, wages have not risen as much as expected, with some employers wanting to pay less than the $10 an hour that Iowans say is the minimum most will accept. Because of the 2008-09 recession, many firms aim to keep base wages low and respond to labor shortages by adding bonuses and benefits that can be eliminated if necessary.

The US Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in March 2016 that Tyson Foods' workers could use statistical analysis to determine how much unpaid time they incurred putting on and taking off protective gear at a Storm Lake, Iowa pork processing plant. Workers' lawyers used 744 videotaped observations to determine average "donning and doffing" time, noting that Tyson kept no records of this time.

Workers won a $5.8 million judgment that Tyson was appealing, citing the 2011 Wal-Mart vs Dukes case in which the US Supreme Court found that the experiences of 120 women at Wal-Mart did not show discrimination against 1.5 million female employees. The Tyson decision cited a 1946 precedent, which said that "Where the employer's records are inaccurate or inadequate and the employee cannot offer convincing substitutes," statistical methods are "sufficient evidence to show the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable inference."

Chicken. The average weight of chickens raised for meat has doubled from three pounds in 1955 to over six pounds in 2015. Broiler chickens can gain one pound every eight days, so that most are slaughtered before they are 50 days old.

Fast weight gain in chicken means that up to five percent of breasts are woody or fibrous, prompting complaints from consumers. Three firms, Aviagen Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc. and Hubbard, produce most of the chicks for broilers, and their breeding programs emphasize high-yields of breast meat.

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